Happy New Year, everyone! I have neither the energy nor the time to wax philosophical, so I thought I'd just fill in some of the rather significant blanks from my nearly two month silence.
*Thanksgiving was great. A bunch of us lao wai (foreigners) went to our friends' house about three hours outside of town and made a bunch of decadent American-style food. I'm told my sweet potato casserole was a modest hit.
*Christmas was also a lot of fun, but super busy. I somehow was asked to give a speech in Chinese for my university's foreign student Christmas party, and I somehow ended up playing Christmas carols for a small nativity play at my friend's party. In the process, I picked up a cheap suit (about $20 US), wrote a short song for a friend, forgot to bring a gift to a white elephant party, and rode an "ice bike" for the first time. Some pictures of me from these events have been posted on facebook, in case you are a visual learner.
*It was rumored there be fireworks for the New Year, so me and three friends headed out to the alleged location at 11:45 to find it empty and unlit. We decided to stay anyway, unpacked our bag of food and drink, crumbled up some puffed corn and threw it in the air at midnight as our own firework display. A minute later, people began hanging fireworks out the windows of the surrounded apartments and buildings, and they set them off at the same time, creating a tremendous rumbling in the downtown area where we stood in awe at the park. Then we spied the actual firework display happening quite a ways from us. We began walking quickly toward them, but they ended before we arrived. As far as planning and execution, it was a failure, but as somehow magically happens in these situations, the memory sparkles.
*Somewhere in there we had some cold and snow. It wasn't much, but enough to spark memories of winters past. The snowball fight with my dad when I lost my glasses. A crystalline night kiss in New England. The frigid day in St. Louis when our heat broke and I had to wait at home with ice on the inside of the windows for the repair man. Sledding down Art Hill. The great Portland blizzard of 2008. Walking through calf-deep snow with longjohns, a bottle of red wine, and a lingering case of lovesickness.
My time here has been wonderful, difficult, and confusing. I miss home, which primarily means Portland, but as time goes on means so many other things. My family in New York, Florida, and Arkansas. My friends in Little Rock, St. Louis, Chicago, and Portland. Well-crafted beer and strong coffee. Family Dinner and Food for Thought. Coffeeshops, libraries, and forests. Writing and hiking. The ocean. Quiet.
I have wonderful friends here, family really. It feels ridiculous and unfair to continue looking back when they are here, but that's how it has always been for me, I suppose. The more that I leave home, the more that I carry it with me, and it is distractingly beautiful, whatever it is.
I like it here, but it is not home. The people in my neighborhood still stare and get their friends' attention when I walk by. I hear them laugh or remark: "Foreigner", "African", "Muslim". There are many things I expected to cause me culture shock, but most of them passed quickly. This one persists, and creates an enduring dissonance. Above all, home is supposed to be where I belong. I don't belong here.
But I love the language and many aspects of the culture. It's a place that I see myself coming back to again and again with eyes opened by the passage of years, new wonders presenting themselves in familiar places. I guess in that way, this place has become part of the home I carry with me, and that is wonderful, difficult, and confusing.
I am looking forward to 2010. I said 2009 would be a year of action, and I moved across the Pacific Ocean. I think 2010 will be a year of reflection. I'm ready to set a course within myself, purposeful and yet uncertain.
I'm ready to strive for something that has been just out of my grasp, pull myself up onto that heretofore invisible mountainside, and see the horizon from a new perspective. And for once, I don't want my vision to be clouded by planning how to get down to the valley. After all, I only have 357 more days on the mountain.